UEFA director: ‘It is important for us to show leadership in greening football’

Michele Uva is UEFA’s Director for Football Social Responsibility. [@UEFA / Twitter]

This article is part of our special report Euro 2021 football cup: The green issue.

Even with its unique pan-European nature and reductions in fan travel due to the pandemic, Euro 2020 would have been the most environmentally conscious Euro tournament yet, says Michele Uva. And Euro 2024 in Germany will be “the most sustainable tournament ever,” he assures.

This year’s unconventional Euro 2020 cup has brought renewed attention to the environmental impacts of football. Michele Uva, UEFA’s Director for Football Social Responsibility, told EURACTIV what they’re doing to reduce football’s environmental footprint.

The climate and environmental impacts of sports venues is an area that’s getting increasing attention. What are football stadiums and leagues doing to lower their environmental impact?

Europe is home to some of the leading sports stadiums in the world in terms of environmental impact and UEFA, together with the European football community, is committed to being at the forefront of this. From renewable energy to smart mobility and innovative recycling and waste management systems, stadiums, clubs, fans and communities are all engaged in ensuring optimal sustainability.

The challenges and possibilities for reducing environmental impact vary greatly from stadium to stadium, from city to city and countries across Europe. That’s why one of the key things we can do at European level is to make sure we learn from each other and exchange best practices.

In this context, UEFA and several of its member associations, along with leading stadiums and clubs – including Rome’s Stadio Olimpico which will host the opening game of the EURO this summer – are excited to be a part of the LIFE TACKLE project. LIFE TACKLE is an international project co-funded by the EU aiming at improving the environmental management of football matches and the overall level of awareness and attention towards environmental issues in the football sector.

Between 2018 and 2021, best practices on environmental management are being collected and tested in different stadiums across Europe and information exchanged among national football associations to guide their implementation. As part of the project, strong contacts with EURO 2020 host cities has been maintained to share with them the LIFE TACKLE results and help them better manage waste during the European Championship.”

What are some of the initiatives stadiums and clubs are envisioning for the future that could lessen the environmental impact of sporting events?

From fans, to clubs, leagues, players and national associations, we are seeing more and more members of the European football community becoming engaged in and taking leadership on climate action and environmental protection. There are so many stadiums and clubs doing great things – whether those at elite European level or at grassroots and community levels.

From an elite side, VfL Wolfsburg from Germany’s Bundesliga are a great example of an environmentally sustainable club – implementing 100% green energy across the club, using bioplastic cups and ensuring zero landfill waste. At a community and grassroots level, Forest Green Rovers from England have introduced many sustainability measures, including solar panels, electric car charging points, water recycling, an electric lawnmower, an organic pitch, and an entirely vegan menu for players and fans.

Communities and fans are really at the heart of what stadiums and clubs are doing and are being challenged to do. We can highlight here another really interesting EU project that UEFA is involved in with three UEFA national associations – GREENFOOT.  It’s an excellent example of innovative, fan and community mobilisation-based action. The GREENFOOT project concept is to finance sport building energy efficiency renovations and renewable energy source installations with crowdfunding schemes that propel Europeans to become active participants in the energy transition through their love of sports and their favourite teams.

Overall, as the European governing body, for UEFA, it is important for us to show leadership, support coherence and to help enable solutions and best practices to be scaled, with everyone doing what they can in their specific circumstances. We also believe strongly in partnering with international organisations and governments, in particular the EU’s climate action agenda and UN SDGs.

That is why the UEFA President committed European football’s support to the European Green Deal and European Climate Pact last year when meeting European Commission President von der Leyen and Executive Vice President Timmermans. We are also signed up to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework, which is a framework that an increasing number of leading European football clubs are part of.

This edition of the euro football cup is special, because it is the first which is not hosted by a single nation (or group of two). At the same time, it is happening in the context of COVID-19, where there will be limited audience size and travelling. With both of those differences in mind, will this year’s event have less of a climate impact than normal years?

UEFA EURO 2020 is a celebration of European football that will happen right across the continent. The nature of the tournament means there are many benefits over a traditional one. In addition to being able to take the matches to more diverse communities across Europe, there is no need either to build a host of new stadia or the transport links that they require, which carry a huge environmental impact from, for instance, materials and other resources used for the development of such infrastructure.

But it also has a cost, with increased travel for fans to watch their teams play. Whilst this is of course reduced due to the pandemic meaning less fans will travel, UEFA had in any case always been committed to compensating for the carbon emissions for all staff, teams and supporters travelling to this event. Even with its unique pan-European nature and even without the reductions in fan travel due to the pandemic, EURO 2020 would always have been the most environmentally conscious EURO tournament yet.

And we are not stopping here – for EURO 2024 in Germany we are working with the German Football Association to make the 2024 tournament the most sustainable tournament ever. It is our shared objective to make UEFA EURO 2024 a new flagship project in terms of event social responsibility, as well as a source of inspiration for the integration of sustainability into the core of football and other sports.

UEFA is fully committed to ensuring that the European Championship is always a driving force for sustainable development in both environmental and social sustainability terms, just like Europe itself aspires to be.

What can fans do to help lower their environmental impact when they travel to stadiums for tournaments ?

There are two main areas where fans can – and already do – play a key role in helping to reduce their environmental impact when they come to games. The first relates to smart mobility – wherever possible fans should choose ground transport over air travel and use public transport to reach the venue or walk or cycle.

The second is around sustainable consumption and circular economy, where fans have a key role to play in ensuring that they support recycling and waste management (i.e. separate collection of plastic) efforts in and around the stadium.

There are many more ways and fans themselves are often leading calls for new approaches like for example vegetarian menu options.

Above all, to have an impact and successful initiatives, it’s about working together and good communication between all stakeholders from event organisers, stadiums, suppliers, to local councils and authorities, clubs, fans and even sponsors. We all have a role to play and responsibility, and together we can really make a difference.

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